"Maybe I'm just tired. Or shot one too many steroid injections this week. Whatever. I oughta be happy for you insensitive pricks, you who claim to care. I oughta be glad that you haven't been through what I have, and forgive you for being so fucking clueless.
"I'm not, though. I'm pissed off.
"'You just gotta have a positive attitude. You choose to be that way. You choose to think that way. You're too sensitive. You need to toughen up.'
"Okay, if the worst thing that ever happened to me was having my brother steal my favorite 'Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition', or having fucked-up hair on Picture Day, and twenty years later I was still obsessing about it, then, yeah, I'd be needing your advice.
"Not all of us are that lucky.
"The worst thing that ever happened to me is shit I don't even wanna remember. And if you break your leg, am I gonna tell you, 'Hey, man, why are you limping? That's your choice, you know. You don't HAVE to limp. You can just think positive, and choose not to.'
"That gonna work for you, chump? No? Well, why not? It's just a broken leg, right? It happened, and it was bad, but it's in a cast now, and it's healing, so what's your problem?
"Yeah.Well, keep this in mind, the next time you are too bored, too irritated, or too impatient to follow through on that 'I care about you' bullshit: insecurity is a mental limp. It's a reflex, a subconscious reaction, and although I can sometimes choose not to reveal it, it takes effort, just like hiding a limp. And I don�t always have the energy to devote to it, and sometimes I'm just too pissed off to care. After all, who am I hiding it for?
"Not me. You. 'Cause I know damn well that you don't want to deal with it, and I try not to make you. Most of the time. Because that's the choice YOU made, right? To tell yourself it's not your problem, that I'm just a pussy, and need to learn to 'deal with it'. Your choice, to turn your back on me, and you blame your decision on me, too, so you don't have to feel guilty about being a cold-hearted prick.
"Well, you can shut me out. That's your right, and I sure as hell don't blame you. I irritate the shit outta me sometimes, too. But as for layering more guilt on me--sorry, but I'm done taking that crap.
"You don't wanna hear me, that's fine. I get it. But keep your judgmental, meaningless fucking platitudes to yourself.
"Go ahead and turn your back, but shut the fuck up."
The recording ended, leaving them in strained silence.
Dan was the first to speak. "So, do you know where he called from?�"
Marie shook her head. "No. He blocked the caller ID. And I tried calling him, but he didn't answer his cell."
Dan nodded thoughtfully.
Next came Janet, her voice trembling with emotion: "Do you? Is this? You don't think he's gone somewhere to, you know, hurt himself, do you?"
The desperation in her beseeching stare irritated Dan. "He's pissed off, not suicidal," he snapped. "I'm sure he's out drinking and looking for a fight right about now. He�ll either come home in the morning, or call us from the cop-shop, needing someone to post bail.�
She turned to Marie, trying again. �I�m afraid. Soldiers kill themselves all the time! You know, that stress thing they get. We need to go look for him. I couldn�t stand it if something happened to my baby!�
Marie turned away, avoiding the greedy eyes and dramatic posturing. She thought Dan probably had it right, but how did she tell John�s mother that without sounding heartless? She and John hadn�t been together long. She didn�t know him as well as his mother and brother did. That�s why she�d called them. She assumed that, being his family, they would know what to do.
Janet stood, pulling her cell phone from her purse. �I�m going to call your father,� she informed Dan. She left the kitchen, ostensibly seeking privacy, yet going no further than the living room. In less than a minute, her strident tones could be heard, imploring, berating, and sobbing in turn.
�Fucking drama queen,� Dan muttered. He jerked the refrigerator door open. �Wanna beer?�
Marie shook her head.
�Just ignore her,� Dan instructed. �Ma�s always been a great actress. She watches soap operas twenny-four seven. She loves shit like this. Lives for it, I swear to God.�
Marie opened the dishwasher and started putting the items inside back into their respective cupboards. �Do you really think he�s just out at a bar somewhere?�
�Yeah. I could prob�ly find him without much trouble.� He pulled out a chair, relaxing into it with his legs outstretched, crossed at the ankles. He took a long pull on the bottle of Corona, sans lime, before setting it on the table in front of him.
Maria moved about, brisk and efficient. �I should be going to his shrink with him, so I�d know what to do when things like this come up.�
Dan eyed her speculatively. He didn�t know her well. She�d only been dating his brother for a couple of months, and John tended to keep his women well away from his big brother.
�So, he�s seeing a shrink?� Not that he was all that interested. He just wanted to keep her talking.
She nodded, stretching to replace a glass bowl on a top shelf. �Yeah. One of the higher-ups that he answers too �strongly encouraged� it.�
Her hot pink t-shirt pulled tightly against her breasts as she reached. Dan shifted, adjusting his erection.
�Hm. Didn�t know that.�
She returned to the sink, and began rinsing dishes before transferring them to the dishwasher. �Well, they did have some suicides, just like your mom said. And so the Army is trying, I guess, to prevent more�.um�. �incidents�. He doesn�t talk about the sessions, though, so I don�t know if he thinks they are helping or not. Hell, I don�t even know if he�s having any problems.�
That wasn�t entirely true, of course. She knew about the dreams, because she�d been there when he woke up, sweating and shaking. He wouldn�t tell her what they were about, but sometimes he�d go into the bathroom, and she�d hear him throw up. Other times he�d take a shower, or log onto the computer. Rarely, he�d want to make love, and it frightened her, but excited her, too, because he would be different, then. Normally, he was a gentle, considerate lover. After a dream, he would be aggressive, rough, and it was almost like rape, except that his crazed lust made her feel so desirable that her own hunger matched his, with the element of danger heightening her senses, and they would become frenzied, tearing at one another with mouths, hands, teeth�.She�d had the most intense orgasms of her life that way.
The water scalded her, startling her from her reverie. She glanced at Dan. He was staring at her, widened pupils turning his eyes black. She felt her face flush.
�I�d go to him if I knew where he was,� she offered, and instantly regretted it.
�Well, I can take you to the bar he usually hangs out at. I wouldn�t want you going there alone, though. It�s a pretty seedy place.�
Now she was trapped. She knew a predator when she saw one, and the last thing she wanted was to be alone with this guy. It didn�t matter that he was her boyfriend�s brother. She didn�t trust him.
On the other hand, not going to find John would be proving that what he said was true, wouldn�t it? It would be like turning her back, not reinforcing her words with actions.
And the truth was, she did care. Very much. She wanted to listen, to help, to be there.
She was fairly certain that John knew that. That his message had not been intended for her, and that he knew she would call his family once she heard it.
Following that reasoning, what he wanted, or needed, was for them to prove themselves to him. Prove that they were willing to take a risk, go out on a limb, expose their own weaknesses. Maybe admit that they just didn�t know how to respond.
�I think we should all go.�
Dan snorted. �Oh, no! I ain�t takin� Ma to a fuckin� bar! You ever heard her go on about the evils of alcohol? That�d be enough to drive ME crazy!�
�You heard his message,� Marie insisted. �He�s telling us to put up or shut up. It�s like an ultimatum. He needs you guys to prove to him that you really do care about him. You can�t just ignore that.�
Dan rolled the empty bottle between his palms. She waited while he thought things through.
�Well,� he drawled, thinking as he spoke, �there�s actually more than one place he could be. I�ll give Dad the directions to a couple, and you and I can go to the others. Whoever finds him first can call the rest.�
She still didn�t like the thought of being alone with Dan. �How about if I ride with your mom, and you take your dad?�
He shook his head. �Those neighborhoods aren�t safe. You need a man with you. And no way in hell am I listening to my ma whine and moan about her poor little boy all the way there, so don�t even bother suggesting it.�
She had to smile, despite her misgivings. She wouldn�t want to be alone in a car with Janet, either.
�Alright. You and I, then. But if we find him, let me talk to him first, okay? You can wait at the bar or something while I feel him out.�
Dan straightened in his chair, grinning lewdly. �Feel him out? Or up?� He winked, but she didn�t respond. He shrugged one shoulder. �Fine with me.�
He�d have her alone for at least thirty minutes. That was all the time he needed.